I was struck by Vinge's referring to bacterial conjugation and the nature of
corporations. Particularly the latter, when I recalled Sasha's liquid
intelligence ideas. And by his response to Robin, and mention of _Metaman_
(which I've read.) Most of this will be recap, but perhaps presented
differently. First, some literary abuse:
Civilizations in the High Beyond produce artifacts not producible in the Lower Beyond, even when understood there, which are sold in exchange for raw materials and art. They can do this because physical conditions in their Zone allow higher bandwidth, and thus more complex forms of organization. The individuals are similar to those Below, but organized better, and probably educated better through those organizations. Even when understood, the High Beyond is not imitable due to conditions below. Individuals from Below trickle on High, but the High Beyond itself extends only slowly Below.
Civilizations in the West make products not producible in the Rest of the world, even when understood there, which are sold in exchange for raw materials and art. They can do this because cultural conditions in their Zone allow more trust and reliable contracts, and thus more complex forms of organization. The individuals are similar to those elsewhere, but organized better, as well as educated better through those organizations. Even when understood, the West is not imitable due to conditions elsewhere. Individuals from the Rest trickle to the West, but the West itself extends only slowly elsewhere.
Analysis: in the High Beyond authorial magic allows greater linking of
computers and people which can run more complex factories and design the
products for those factories. In the West (northwestern Europe, North
America, Australia/New Zealand, Japan) mass literacy, general reliability of
contract, general trustworthiness, reliability of property, a common bourgeois
ethic, and a working price system allow greater linking of people in companies
(and service-providing governments) which can flexibly organize people for
projects exceeding anyone's grasp, and do so for long periods of time.
The Great Link of the changelings of Star Trek's Dominion is a massive ocean of minds, freely exchanging thoughts and experience. Changelings should be capable of forming organisms and structures large and small to handle a huge diversity of tasks for varying lengths of time. We haven't actually seen much, but it got me thinking:
The Great Market of western civilization is a massive ocean of human minds, using language, writing, and prices to exchange thoughts, experience, and desires. In it people are capable of forming structures and superorganisms large and small to handle a huge diversity of tasks for varying lengths of time. In Silicon Valley companies rise and dissolve and have their components rise again in some other combination over and over, merging and splitting and recycling. Liquid intelligence? Look there. Elsewhere the huge structures of Motorola and others are coming together to erect Iridium and Teledesic; presumably they'll link less closely after those are built. 30 years ago a huge structure crystallized out of the Great Market, when enough components agreed to send a bit to the Moon. When that was found to be unsupportable it dissolved, and companies and factories turned to other purposes. 55 years ago the Market responded to threat by coalescing into a huge war machine, producing tons of materiel and soldiers until the threat was vanquished. Then that machine mostly died and dissolved as pieces broke off and reformed civilian firms.
Conclusion? Much of what we anticipate has already happened, at fast rates, and with the creation of sharp dichotomies. I already hear that no one person can fully understand a Boeing 747, or MS Excel. We can already produce superintelligences capable of producing things our minds aren't big enough to grasp. The consciousness isn't superhuman, but a human CEO makes decisions based on superhuman levels of prior processing, and with superhuman (in complexity, not just gross scale) consequences.
So, what would change if our dreams came true? Everything and not very much. Direct neural connections and liquid intelligence at the subhuman level, would be revolutionary for individuals, redefining (or throwing away) what it means to be human. But above the human level not much would change. Efficiency could increase a great deal -- lower training costs, being able to get more precisely the thinker you need, perhaps greater reliability and honesty, since less individual self-interest. But the type of process would be exactly the same as the West has today.
One might think that with direct links posthumans couldn't make the stupidities a corporation can, if it has a stupid CEO or a smart CEO gets wrong data. And possibly it wouldn't make the same errors -- I really can't model that. But consideration of the existence of malapropisms, and people who seem to speak faster than they think, and all sorts of cognitive slips and errors and seeming contradictions in individual people should quickly remove any conviction that direct neural links are any guarantee of posthuman pure sanity and rationality.
So from the human point of view we can change things a lot by changing our species. But that's not the traditional Singularity. As far as superhuman accomplishments and beings go the Singularity happened already. Or we're in it: a product of language, money, writing, and law to allow cooperation to form large and long-term but flexible (and self-modifying!) firms.
(Which explains why Iain Banks' Culture has never Transcended: no money.)
Of course, if we take the Singularity at its most basic level, an inability of an SF writer to imagine stories after a certain level of progress, then the dissolution of human beings into an inhuman soup of thinking abilities would qualify, even while an economist was observing nothing more than a modest increase in GNP.
-xx- Damien R. Sullivan X-)
Evolution: "uber alleles"